Penn squandered a golden opportunity to gain position in the race for Ivy Madness on Saturday after another brutal second-half offensive performance led to a 70-63 loss at Yale.
The Quakers (9-11, 2-4 Ivy) lost despite a 27-point performance from superstar Jordan Dingle in which the guard hit six three-pointers. After a nice hook shot from Penn sophomore forward Nick Spinoso tied the game at 49 coming out of the under-12 media timeout in the second half, the Red and Blue promptly committed turnovers on their next seven offensive possessions over nearly four minutes of game time.
Dingle, as great as he was on Saturday, committed turnovers on three of those trips, including an offensive foul.
Despite that brutal stretch, Penn still nabbed a 54-53 lead with roughly 5:50 remaining after guard George Smith hit an open three-pointer off an inside-out feed from center Max Lorca-Lloyd. But Yale (13-6, 3-3) immediately responded with a go-ahead jumper from junior guard August Mahoney.
Mahoney would later stick the dagger in the Red and Blue with roughly 90 seconds left. After Dingle hit a tough three to draw Penn within 62-60, Mahoney responded out of a Bulldogs timeout with an and-one finish over Spinoso which extended the Yale lead to five and effectively ended the game.
The Quakers lost a game which KenPom and Vegas expected them to lose. But the way they got there should leave fans with reason for both consternation and hope.
1. Penn is doing something right defensively against Ivy bigs.
Yale’s offense on Saturday was largely generated by three-pointers from players who usually don’t shoot the ball well from outside.
Sophomore guard Bez Mbeng, who entered Saturday shooting just over 25% from distance against Division I opponents, hit three treys on four attempts. Seven-footer Danny Wolf, who had not made a three against a D-I opponent all season, hit a contested three during a five-minute cameo in the first half.
Penn effectively erased Yale’s best player, junior forward Matt Knowling, from the game. Knowling finished with just five points on four shots all night. In fact, Yale as a team shot just 38.9% on two-point attempts.
The effort came after the Quakers did a similarly good job against Princeton senior forward Keeshawn Kellman on Monday. Penn swarmed Kellman with double-teams all night; he missed his only field goal attempt in that contest.
Penn’s defense has taken justified criticism throughout the season, but it’s tough to assign blame to that end of the court when the team plays the percentages properly and comes up on the wrong end of variance.
2. George Smith may be a key player down the stretch.
What made Smith’s go-ahead three late in the second half so impressive was that it came after Penn coach Steve Donahue had pulled both Dingle and junior guard Clark Slajchert from the floor. Penn has not generated any consistent offense when neither of those players are options.
Smith has now turned in three consecutive games with a KenPom offensive rating above the breakeven mark of 100 points per 100 possessions. On Saturday, the Quakers scored 290 points per 100 possessions while Smith was on the floor, a figure that was boosted by the sophomore hitting both of his long-distance attempts.
The Quakers typically rely on Smith to be one of their lead guards on the perimeter. But if he can provide an offense jolt, he will earn more minutes.
Meanwhile, Slajchert continues to struggle. After torching Brown for 31 points on 18 shots in the Ivy opener, Slajchert has put up five consecutive games with a KenPom offensive rating below that breakeven mark of 100 points per 100 possessions.
The Quakers need to get Slajchert going again if they want to seriously contend for an Ivy title. Perhaps Monday’s tuneup game at Hartford will help.
3. The Quakers’ season effectively comes down to Saturday afternoon
Penn currently sits alone in seventh place in the league, looking up at four teams tied with 3-3 records. The Quakers are down a head-to-head matchup against two of those teams (Yale and Dartmouth), up on one (Brown) and have not faced the fourth (Harvard).
KenPom currently projects Penn to finish with a 7-7 record in Ivy play, tied with Harvard for the fourth and final spot in Ivy Madness. The first tiebreaker to come to play in that scenario? The head-to-head record.
The Quakers absolutely, positively need to take care of business at home on Saturday against Harvard. A loss, and they risk falling effectively three games behind all of those aforementioned teams save Brown thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker deficits.
With a win, though, Penn will set itself up to potentially get back to .500 in Ivy play the following Friday at home in a game against Columbia that will have the team pegged as 15-plus point Vegas favorites.